XI ORDINARY GENERAL ASSEMBLY
The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church
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29 - 22.10.2005
♦ MESSAGE OF THE XI ORDINARY GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS
♦ MESSAGE OF THE XI ORDINARY GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS
During the Twentieth General Congregation held yesterday, Friday 21th October 2005, the Synodal Fathers approved the Message of the Synod of Bishops to the People of God, at the conclusion of the XI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.
We publish here below the full text of the English version:
The Eucharist: Living Bread for the Peace of the World
Dear brother bishops,
dear priests and deacons,
Dearly beloved brothers and sisters
1. “Peace be with you!” In the name of the Lord who appeared in the Cenacle of Jerusalem on the evening of Easter, we repeat, “Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:21). May the mystery of his death and resurrection bring you consolation and give meaning to the whole of your life! May he keep you joyful and full of hope! For Christ is living in his Church, as he promised (see Mt 28:20). He remains with us always until the end of the world. He gives himself to us in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, along with the joy of loving as he loved. He commands us to share his victorious love with our brothers and sisters of the whole world. This is the joyful message that we proclaim to you, beloved brothers and sisters, at the end of the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has again gathered us as in the Cenacle, with Mary the Mother of God and our Mother, to recall the gift par excellence of the Holy Eucharist.
2. Called to Rome by Pope John Paul II, of venerable memory, and confirmed by His Holiness Benedict XVI, we have come from the five continents of the world to pray and reflect together on The Eucharist, Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church. The goal of the Synod was to offer proposals to the Holy Father that might help him to update and deepen the Eucharistic life of the Church. We have been able to experience what the Holy Eucharist has been from the very beginning: one faith and one Church, nourished by one bread of life, in visible communion with the successor of Peter.
3. The fraternal sharing among the Bishops, the auditors, and also the ecumenical representatives, has renewed our conviction that the Holy Eucharist animates and transforms the life of the particular Churches of the East and West, as well as the many human activities in the very different circumstances in which we live. We have sensed a profound joy in experiencing the unity of our Eucharistic faith in the midst of the widespread diversity of rites, cultures and pastoral situations. The presence of so many Brother bishops has allowed us to experience, in a more direct way, the richness of our different liturgical traditions that makes the depths of the unique Eucharistic mystery shine forth.
We invite you, dear Christian brothers and sisters of every confession, to pray more fervently that the day of reconciliation, and the full visible unity of the Church might come in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in conformity with the prayer of Jesus on the eve of his death: “That all may be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, that they may be one in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me” (Jn 17:21).
4. Profoundly thankful to God for the Pontificate of the Holy Father, John Paul II, and for his final Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, followed by the Apostolic Letter that opened the Year of the Eucharist, Mane nobiscum Domine, we ask God to multiply the fruits of his witness and his teaching. We also extend our thanks to all the people of God, whose presence and solidarity we have felt during these three weeks of prayer and reflection. The local Churches in China, and their bishops who were not able to join us in our work, had a special place in our thoughts and prayers.
To all of you, bishops, priests and deacons, missionaries from all the world, consecrated men and women, lay faithful, and also to you, men and women of good will, Peace and Joy in the Holy Spirit in the name of the Risen Christ!
Listening to the Suffering of the World
5. The meeting of the Synod has been an intense time of sharing and witnessing to the life of the Church in the different continents. We have been made aware of extreme situations and suffering generated by wars, hunger, different forms of terrorism and injustice, which touch the daily life of hundreds of millions of human beings. The explosive violence in the Middle East and in Africa has reminded us that the African continent has been forgotten by the public opinion of the world. Natural disasters, which seem to have multiplied, force us to look upon nature with greater respect and to strengthen our solidarity with those suffering peoples.
We have not remained silent before the consequences of secularization, present above all in the West, that lead to religious indifference and various expressions of relativism. We have remembered and denounced the situations of injustice and extreme poverty that are in evidence everywhere, but especially in Latin America, in Africa and in Asia. All this suffering cries out to God, and challenges the conscience of humanity. It challenges us all. What is becoming of the global village of our earth, the threatened environment that risks being ruined? What can be done so that, in this era of globalization, solidarity might triumph over suffering and misery? We also direct our thoughts to those who govern the nations that they take diligent care to provide access to the common good for all. We ask that they be promoters of the dignity of every human being, from conception till natural death. We ask them enact laws which respect the natural rights of marriage and the family. For our part, we will continue to participate actively in a common effort to generate lasting conditions for genuine progress for the whole human family, where no one is lacking his or her daily bread.
6. We have carried all these sufferings and these questions with us in our Eucharistic celebration and adoration. In our debates, listening carefully to one another, we have been moved and shaken by the witness of the martyrs who are still present today, as throughout the whole history of the Church, in many areas of the world. The Synod Fathers have recalled that the martyrs have always found the strength to overcome hatred by love and violence by pardon, thanks to the Holy Eucharist.
“Do This in Memory of Me”
7. On the eve of his passion, “Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples, saying, ‘Take, eat, this is my body.’ Then he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them saying, ‘Drink of it all of you; for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:25-28). “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24-25). From its beginnings, the Church has remembered the death and resurrection of Jesus with the same words and actions of the Last Supper, asking the Spirit to transform the bread and wine into the Body and into the Blood of Christ. We firmly believe and we teach in the constant tradition of the Church that the words of Jesus pronounced by the priest at the Mass, in the power of the Holy Spirit, effect what they signify. They bring about the real presence of the risen Christ (CCC 1366). The Church lives from this gift par excellence that gathers it, purifies it and transforms it into the one body of Christ, animated by the one Spirit (see Eph 5:29).
The Eucharist is the gift of love, love of the Father who sent his only Son so that the world might be saved (see Jn 3:16-17); the love of Christ who loved us to the end (see Jn 13:1); the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (see Rom 5:5), who cries out in us “Abba, Father!” (Gal 4:6). In celebrating the Holy Sacrifice, therefore, we joyfully announce the salvation of the world in proclaiming the victorious death of the Lord until he comes. In our communion with his Body, we receive the “pledge” of our own resurrection.
8. Forty years after the Second Vatican Council we wanted to examine to what extent the mysteries of the faith are adequately expressed and celebrated in our liturgical assemblies. The Synod reaffirms that the Second Vatican Council provided the necessary basis for an authentic liturgical renewal. It is necessary now to cultivate the positive fruits of this reform, and to correct abuses that have crept into liturgical practice. We are convinced that respect for the sacred character of the liturgy is transmitted by genuine fidelity to liturgical norms of legitimate authority. No one should consider himself master of the Church’s liturgy. Living faith that recognizes the presence of the Lord is the first condition for beautiful liturgical celebrations, which give a genuine “Amen” to the glory of God. Lights in the Eucharistic life of the Church
9. The work of the Synod has proceeded in an atmosphere of fraternal joy that has been nourished by the open discussion of various problems and the spontaneous sharing of the fruits of the Year of the Eucharist. The listening presence and the interventions of our Holy Father Benedict XVI have been an example for us all and a precious support. Many of the interventions have reported positive and joyful events, for example: the renewed consciousness of the importance of the Sunday Mass; the increase in the number of vocations to the priesthood and to consecrated life in various places of the world; the powerful experiences of the World Youth Days, culminating at Cologne in Germany; the development of numerous initiatives for the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament almost everywhere in the world; the renewal of the catechesis on Baptism and the Eucharist in the light of the Catechism of the Catholic Church; the growth of movements and communities who form missionaries for the new evangelization; the growth in the number of young altar servers who bring with them the hope of new vocations, and many other events that cause us to give thanks.
Finally, the Synod Fathers hope that the Year of the Eucharist might be a beginning and a point of departure for a new evangelization of our globalized humanity, that begins with the Eucharist.
10. We wish that “Eucharistic wonder” (EE 6) might lead the faithful to an always stronger life of faith. To this end, the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic traditions celebrate the Divine Liturgy, cultivate the prayer of Jesus and the Eucharistic fast, while the Latin tradition fosters a “Eucharistic spirituality,” that culminates in the celebration of the Eucharist. There is also the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament outside Mass, Eucharistic Benediction, processions with the Blessed Sacrament, and healthy manifestations of popular piety. Such spirituality will certainly prove to be a very rich resource in sustaining everyday life, and strengthening our witness.
11. We thank God that in many countries where priests were not present, or forced underground, the Church is now freely able to celebrate the Holy Mysteries. The freedom to preach the Gospel and witnesses with their renewed fervour are reawakening the faith little by little, in areas profoundly dechristianized. We affectionately greet and encourage all those who continue to suffer persecution. We also ask that in those places where Christians are a minority group, they be allowed to celebrate the Day of the Lord in complete freedom.
Challenges for a Eucharistic Renewal
12. The life of our Churches is also marked by shadows and problems which we have not ignored. In the first place, we think of the loss of the sense of sin and the persistent crisis in the practice of the Sacrament of Penance. It is important to rediscover its deepest meaning; it is a conversion and a precious remedy given by the risen Christ for the forgiveness of sins (see Jn 20:23) and for the growth of love towards him and our brothers and sisters.
It is interesting to notice, that more and more young people, suitably catechized, practice confessing their personal sins, so revealing an awareness of the reconciliation required for the worthy reception of Holy Communion.
13. Nevertheless, the lack of priests to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist worries us a great deal and invites us to pray and more actively promote priestly vocations. Some priests, undergoing great difficulty, are forced to celebrate many times and to move from one place to another to best meet the needs of the faithful. They truly deserve our deep appreciation and solidarity. Our thanks goes also to those many missionaries whose enthusiasm for the proclamation of the Good News enables us to remain faithful today to the commandment of the Lord to go into the whole world and to baptize in his name (see Mt 28:19).
14. On the other hand, we are worried because the absence of the priest makes it impossible to celebrate Mass, to celebrate the Day of the Lord. Various forms of celebration already exist in different continents that suffer from a lack of priests. Yet, the practice of “spiritual communion,” dear to the Catholic tradition, can and should be better promoted and explained so that the faithful may be helped both to communicate sacramentally in a better way and to bring genuine consolation to those who, for various reasons, cannot receive the Body and Blood of Christ in communion. We believe that this practice should help people who are alone, especially the handicapped, the aged, those imprisoned and refugees.
15. We know the sadness of those who do not have access to sacramental communion because of their family situations that do not conform to the commandment of the Lord (see Mt 19:3-9). Some divorced and remarried people sadly accept their inability to take sacramental communion and they make an offering of it to God. Others are not able to understand this restriction, and live with an internal frustration. We reaffirm that, while we do not endorse their choice (cf. CCC 2384), they are not excluded from the life of the Church. We ask that they participate in Sunday Mass and devote themselves assiduously to listening to the Word of God so that it might nourish their life of faith, of love and of conversion. We wish to tell them how close we are to them in prayer and pastoral concern. Together, let us ask the Lord to obey his will faithfully.
16. We have also observed that in certain areas there is a lessening of the sense of the sacred that affects not only the active and fruitful participation of the faithful at Mass, but also the manner in which the celebration takes place and the quality of the witness that Christians are called to give. We seek to revive, by means of the Holy Eucharist, the sense and joy of belonging to the Catholic community, as an increasing number of departures from the Church is evident in certain countries. The fact of de-Christianization calls for a better formation to Christian life in families so that sacramental practice is revitalized and genuinely expresses the content of the faith. We therefore invite parents, pastors and catechists to work toward re-establishing a strategy for evangelization and education in the faith at the beginning of this new millennium.
17. Before the Lord of history and the future of the world, the poor of every generation and today, the ever-increasing number of victims of injustice and all the forgotten of this world challenge us. They remind us of Christ’s agony, until the end of the world. These sufferings cannot remain extraneous to the celebration of the Eucharistic Mystery which summons all of us to work for justice and the transformation of the world in an active and conscious fashion, on the basis of the social teaching of the Church that promotes the centrality and the dignity of the human person.
“We cannot delude ourselves: mutual love and especially the care that we show for those who are in need will indicate that we will be recognized as true disciples of Christ (see Jn 13:35; Mt 25:31-46). This is the criterion that will attest the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations” (Mane nobiscum Domine 28).
You will be my Witnesses
18. “Jesus, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end”. Saint John reveals the meaning of the Institution of the Holy Eucharist in the narrative of the washing of the feet (see Jn 13:1-20). Jesus humbles himself to wash the feet of his disciples as a sign of his love which reaches beyond all limits. This prophetic gesture proclaims his self-humiliation of the following day, unto death on the Cross; an action that takes away the sins of the world, and washes away every sin from our souls. The Holy Eucharist is the gift of love, an encounter with the God who loves us and a spring welling up to eternal life. Bishops, priests and deacons, we are the first witnesses and servants of this Love.
19. Dear Priests, we have thought of you a great deal over these days. We recognize your generosity and your challenges. You bear, in communion with us, the burden of the daily pastoral service of the People of God. You proclaim the Word of God, and you take care to introduce the faithful to the Eucharistic mystery. What a grace your ministry is! We pray with you and for you so that, together, we will remain faithful to the love of the Lord. We ask you to be, with us and following the example of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, “humble workers in the vineyard of the Lord,” following a consistent priestly life. May the peace of Christ that you give to repentant sinners and to the Eucharistic gatherings, flow down upon you and on the communities that live from your witness.
We remember with gratitude the commitment of the permanent deacons, catechists, pastoral workers and numerous lay people who work for the community. May your service always be fruitful and generous, nourished by a full unity of spirit and action with the Pastors of your communities!
20. Dearly beloved brothers and sisters, we are called, in whatever form of life we find ourselves, to live our baptismal vocation, clothing ourselves with the sentiments of Christ Jesus (see Phil 2:2), matching one another in humility, following the example of Christ Jesus. Our mutual love is not only an imitation of the Lord, it is a living proof of his life-giving presence among us. We greet and thank all consecrated people, that chosen portion of the vineyard of the Lord who freely witness to the Good News of the Spouse who is coming (see Rev 22:17-20). Your Eucharistic witness in the service of Christ is a cry of love in the darkness of the world, an echo of the ancient Marian hymns, the Stabat Mater and of the Magnificat. May the Woman of the Eucharist par excellence, crowned with stars, and rich in love, the Virgin of the Assumption and of the Immaculate Conception, watch over you in your service of God and the poor, in the joy of Easter, for the hope of the world.
21. Dear young people, the Holy Father Benedict XVI has repeatedly said that you lose nothing when you give yourselves to Christ. We take up again his strong and serene words from his inaugural Mass that direct you toward true happiness, with the greatest respect for your personal freedom: “Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life”. We have great trust in your capacity and your desire to develop the positive values in the world, and to change what is unjust and violent. Please count upon our support and our prayer so that we may together accept the challenge to build the future with Christ. You are the “sentinels of the morning” and the “explorers of the future.” Do not fail to draw from the source of divine energy in the Holy Eucharist to bring about the changes that are necessary.
To all young seminarians who are preparing for the priestly ministry, and who share with their generation the same hopes for the future, we wish to express our hope that their formation will be permeated by an authentic Eucharistic spirituality.
22. Dear Christian married couples and your families, your vocation to holiness begins as the domestic Church, is nourished at the Holy Table of the Eucharist. Your faith in the Sacrament of Marriage transforms your nuptial union into a Temple of the Holy Spirit, into a rich source of new life, generating children, the fruit of your love. We have often spoken of you at the Synod because we are conscious of the fragility and the uncertainties of the world today. Remain strong in your struggle to educate your children in the faith. You are the source where vocations to the priesthood and the religious life are born. Do not forget that Christ dwells in your union; he blesses it with all the graces you need to live your vocation in a saintly way. We encourage you to maintain the practice of participating as a family in the Sunday Eucharist. In this way, you bring joy to the heart of Jesus, who has said: “Let the little children come to me” (Mk 10:14).
23. We wish to address a special word to all the suffering, especially the sick and the handicapped, who are united with Christ’s sacrifice through their suffering (see Rom 12:2). In your suffering of body and heart, you participate in a special way in the sacrifice of the Eucharist and you are privileged witnesses of the love which comes from it. We are certain that in the moment when we experience our own frailty and limitations, the strength of the Eucharist can be a great help. United to the Paschal Mystery of Christ, we find the answer to the anguish of suffering and death, especially when sickness strikes innocent children. We are close to you all, and especially close to those of you who are dying and who receive the Body of Christ as Viaticum for their final journey toward the Kingdom.
That all may be One
24. The Holy Father Benedict XVI has restated the solemn commitment of the Church to the cause of ecumenism. We are all responsible for this unity (see Jn 17:21), as we are all members of the family of God because of our Baptism, graced by the same fundamental dignity and sharing in the remarkable sacramental gift of divine life. We all feel the sadness of separation which prevents the common celebration of the Eucharist. We wish to intensify the prayer for unity within communities, the exchange of gifts between the Churches and ecclesial communities, as well as the respectful and fraternal contact among everyone, so that we may better know and love one another, respecting and appreciating our differences and our shared values. The precise regulations of the Church determine the position we are to take on sharing the Eucharist with brothers and sisters who are not yet in full communion with us. A healthy discipline prevents confusion and imprudent gestures that might further damage true communion.
25. As Christians, we are close to the other descendants of Abraham: the Jews, who were the first to inherit the Covenant, and the Muslims. In celebrating the Holy Eucharist, we also believe that we are, in the words of Saint Augustine, “a sacrament of humanity” (De civ. Dei, 16), the voice of all the prayers and supplications that rise from the earth toward God.
Conclusion: The Peace Full of Hope
Beloved Brothers and Sisters,
26. We thank God for this Eleventh Synodal Assembly which, convened forty years after the Second Vatican Council, has made us go back to the source of the mystery of the Church. We thus end the Year of the Eucharist on a high note, confirmed in unity and renewed in apostolic and missionary enthusiasm.
At the beginning of the fourth century, Christian worship was still forbidden by the Imperial authorities. The Christians of North Africa, committed to their celebration of the Day of the Lord, defied the prohibition. They were martyred, because they declared that they could not live without the Sunday Eucharistic celebration. The 49 Martyrs of Abitene, united with so many saints and blesseds who have made the Eucharist the center of their life, are praying for us at the beginning of this new millennium. They teach us faithfulness to the gathering of the New Covenant with the Risen Christ.
At the end of this Synod we experience that Peace full of hope that the disciples of Emmaus, with burning hearts, received from the Risen Lord. They arose and returned in haste to Jerusalem, to share their joy with their brothers and sisters in the faith. We hope that you will go joyfully to meet him in the Holy Eucharist, and that you will experience the truth of his words: “And I am with you until the end of the world” (Mt 28:20)
Beloved Brothers and Sisters, Peace be with you!